Editorial 1: Safe harbour at risk: On the impact of the proposed Digital India Act, 2023


  • In formally outlining the crux of the proposed Digital India Act, 2023, the Minister of State, IT, recently made a case for a robust replacement of the IT Act, 2000, which is somewhat obsolete now. He ominously added a question that the government sought to revisit: “should there be a ‘safe harbour’ at all for all intermediaries?” This acquires significance as the government has been working towards increasing the compliance burden on Internet intermediaries, in particular in the IT Rules 2021 and its later amendments.

Safe harbour and the proposed Digital India Act, 2023

  • It is the principle that so-called ‘intermediaries’ on the internet are not responsible for what third parties post on their website. This is the principle that allows social media platforms to avoid liability for posts made by users.
  • Safe harbour provisions, in particular Section 230 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act, 1996, that explicitly provided immunity to online services with respect to user-generated content is considered today to be the foundation of internet.
  • In India, The Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITy) will soon come up with the Digital India Act, 2023 which will replace the Information Technology Act (IT Act) of 2000.
  • The Indian parliament plans to implement the Digital India Act alongside the Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2022, proposed in November 2022, where the two legislations will work in tandem with each other.

The need for a New Act

  • Since the IT Act of 2000 was enacted, there have been many revisions and amendments (IT Act Amendment of 2008, IT Rules 2011). However, because the IT Act was originally designed only to protect e-commerce transactions and define cybercrime offenses, it did not deal with the nuances of the current cybersecurity landscape adequately nor did it address data privacy rights.
  • Without a complete replacement of the governing digital laws, the IT Act would fail to keep up with the growing sophistication and rate of cyber-attacks.
  • The new Digital India Act also envisages to act as catalysts for Indian economy by enabling more innovation, more startups, and at the same time protecting the citizens of India in terms of safety, trust, and accountability.

The proposed provisions under the new Act

  1. Social media platforms’ own moderation policies may now be reduced to constitutional protections for freedom of expression and Fundamental speech rights. An October 2022 amendment to the IT Rules, 2021 says that platforms must respect users’ free speech rights.
  2. Three Grievance Appellate Committees have now been established to take up content complaints by social media users. These are now likely to be subsumed into the Digital India Act.
  3. The Act will cover Artificial Intelligence (AI), Deepfakes, cybercrime, competition issues among internet platforms, and data protection.
  4. A new “Adjudicatory Mechanism” for criminal and civil offenses committed online would come into place.
  5. The term ‘safe harbour’ has been reined in recent years by regulations like the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (New IT Rules)  which require platforms to take down posts when ordered to do so by the government, or when required by law.

Existing provisions regulating safe harbour under the IT Rules of 2021

  • These Rules themselves had put the onus on social media intermediaries to arbitrate on content on their platforms with regulations that were weighted in favour of the government of the day, and had invited legal appeals as digital news media platforms among others questioned the constitutionality of the Rules.
  • Meanwhile, an amendment in October 2022 provided for government-appointed committees that will adjudicate on an individual user’s appeals against moderation decisions of these intermediaries.
  • In January 2023, the IT Ministry proposed an amendment on the take down of social media/news content that has been marked as “fake” or “false” by the Press Information Bureau or any other government agency. These, in sum, had already put the safe harbour protections for intermediaries at much risk.

Way forward

  • Regulation of hate speech and disinformation on the Internet is a must and intermediaries, including digital news media and social media platforms, have an accountable role to play.
  • The IT Rules’ specifications on giving users prior notice before removing content or disabling access, and for intermediaries to come up with periodic compliance reports are well taken.
  • Social media intermediaries should not shut down users’ posts or communications except in the interests of public order and to avoid legal consequences. But care should be taken to ensure that requirements on intermediaries should not become needlessly onerous and punitive, which also vitiate the principle of safe harbour.
  • There is a legitimate concern that the government is keener on regulating or taking down critical opinion or dissent in social media/news platforms than hate speech or disinformation, which in many cases has originated from representatives of the state.


  • While modern regulations to tackle issues related to misinformation, problematic content and the side effects of the new form of the Internet are a must, they should still retain first principles of safe harbour without whittling down their core.

Editorial 2: Reimagining the urban-rural dichotomy


  • The traditional dichotomy of rural ( R ) and urban ( U ), and the accordingly mandated governance structure, seems inadequate to understand and act upon poverty, undernourishment, education, health, environmental management or even development.

Nuanced perspectives

  • Between the two extremes of R and U lies an intermediate settlement formation where rural and urban functions coexist without distinguishable boundaries. Such formations evolve due to interactions of a complex set of geographical, cultural, economic and historical processes.
  • The rural-urban continuum has drawn wide attention in recent years. Under this axiom, it is acknowledged that the transition from rural to urban follows a graded curve of development, and opportunities for social and economic development depend on one’s location along this curve.
A 2021 World Bank Policy Research Working Paper advocated adopting the notion of urban catchment areas delienated along an urban-rural continuum. Identification of such areas would help understand urban-rural interconnections, which is important for making policy decisions across development sectors and for addressing issues related to environment and natural resources management.

Collapsing barriers

  • In 30 years, technology and economic globalisation have increased mobility of resources and people, and enhanced inter- and intra-country connectivity. The extension of transport and communication systems, improved access to energy, increased affordability private and public transport as well as penetration of economic and other networks into remote areas promote a rural-urban continuum.
  • The barriers due to physical distance is melting as increasing rural-urban linkages have given rise to diffused network regions. Rural hinterlands are connected to multiple urban centres. The movement of goods, people, information and finance between sites of production and consumption has strengthened linkages between production and labour markets.
  • As the pull factors grow, push factors driving populations out from both rural areas and urban areas are also intensifying. In the process, a mixed economy zone of primary and secondary-tertiary sectors has evolved.

Existing initiatives: PURA and its successors:

The concept of provision of urban amenities in rural areas (PURA) was originally mooted by the former President Dr. Abdul Kalam as a way of empowering and accelerating rural development, reducing regional disparity and inequalities in development as well as achieving near net zero rural to urban migration.
  • The Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) implemented the PURA scheme on a pilot basis in seven clusters for a period of three years (2004-07).
  • PURA 2.0 as a central sector scheme was launched in 2012 focussing on the development of potential growth centres such as census towns. Objective was the provision of livelihood opportunities and urban amenities in rural areas to bridge the rural – urban divide.
  • Under it, holistic and accelerated development of compact areas around a potential growth centre in a Gram Panchayat (or a group of Gram Panchayats) through Public Private Partnership (PPP) framework for providing livelihood opportunities and urban amenities to improve the quality of life in rural areas was undertaken.
  • Amenities and economic activities provided under PURA include
  1. Water and Sewerage
  2. Construction and maintenance of Village streets
  3. Drainage
  4. Solid Waste Management
  5. Skill Development
  6. Village street lighting
  7. Telecom
  8. Electricity generation
  9. Village linked tourism, etc.
  • In 2014-15, the government made no allocation to the PURA scheme and instead introduced the Rurban Mission with an initial allocation of Rs. 100 crore. The aim of this Mission is to create 300 rural growth clusters across the country.

Changing ecosystems

  • The rural-urban continuum areas also witness changing ecosystems. Agriculturally productive lands are being given for other uses. Food security zones are being reconfigured. Areas for pollutant filtering are declining. There is an increase in waste dump, enhanced disaster risk, and elevated vulnerability. The access of local people to water, food, fuel, fodder and fibre from ecosystems is reducing.
  • At the same time, intermediary market institutions are emerging to provide these goods, which has significant implications for the local people. There is also escalation of market value of land, which further marginalises them.
  • Discussions on social and economic development and environmental issues and their inter-linkages are not complete without acknowledging the rural-urban continuum. Viewing social and economic transformation through this lens will help identify challenges for improving both urban and rural governance and opportunities for enhanced access to employment, services, institutional resources and environmental management.
  • The institutional connections between rural and urban areas operate at different levels for various development sectors. The key challenge of decision-making is to build rural-urban partnership. To achieve this, a systems approach is recommended where the city and the surroundings form a city region for which a perspective plan is prepared integrating rural and urban plans within a common frame.


  • The city and the rural areas will finally move towards a post-urban world where the rural-dichotomy will no longer exist. It is important that the rural urban linkages are better mapped, for which satellite-based settlement data and its integration with Census data may be useful.


No comments yet. Why don’t you start the discussion?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *